Spokane Mayor David Condon would like City Attorney Nancy Isserlis to cooperate in the investigation examining the firing of police Chief Frank Straub, Condon said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review’s news editors and editorial board Tuesday.
Condon confirmed he would be interviewed by the investigator by the end of the month and reasoned that his interview would likely be near the end of the investigation, but he said he had no knowledge of the investigation’s progress or who has been interviewed.
The mayor acknowledged the ongoing controversy has put a strain on him and his family, relaying worries of how to deal with people who confront him in public about the controversy.
Condon’s interview coincided with a statement released by the Seabold Group, the investigative firm leading the City Hall investigation. The Seattle-based firm said it waived typical policy by commenting on the ongoing investigation, but felt it had to following “incorrect facts and premature judgments” in local news accounts.
The Seabold statement said Kris Cappel, the former federal prosecutor and principal in the group, had conducted 29 interviews so far and expected up to 15 more, which would include Condon, City Administrator Theresa Sanders and Brian Coddington, the mayor’s spokesman. Isserlis’ name was notably absent from the list, as Condon acknowledged.
“I think it’s very important she cooperate,” Condon said of Isserlis, but added that the decision was hers. Isserlis has declined to say if she will consent to be interviewed, and Coddington did not respond to a question asking to verify Isserlis’ participation.
Condon didn’t offer many more opinions on who should be interviewed, or how the investigation should be conducted. He said the “original intent” of the investigation asked, “How can we do things differently?”
Regardless of what the investigation finds, Condon said the city already is examining how it handles issues of harassment and hostility among city employees. He said city employees currently have four avenues for such concerns. For police personnel, the internal affairs department handles such issues. For other employees, the city has an official whistleblower process, in which employees can reveal sensitive issues without fear of being punished. The city’s human resources department also can hear and process complaints. Finally, Condon said, employees are welcome to talk with him using his “open door” policy.
It was the open door that led in part to the problems City Hall has faced in the aftermath of Straub’s forced resignation. Straub had been accused of sexually harassing his spokeswoman, Monique Cotton, and of launching into tirades that some of his top administrators said crossed the line into abusive management. Cotton privately took her allegations to Condon, and she was hurriedly transferred to the Parks Department, something she demanded with the backing of an attorney. City officials denied for months that there were any troubles between Straub and Cotton, though the mayor knew of the allegations last April.
Now, as people central to the investigation have left city employment or decided against participating in Cappel’s investigation, questions about the inquiry’s integrity have been raised, leading to Seabold’s statement Tuesday.
Without sharing many details from the three-month investigation, the Seabold statement relayed concerns made earlier by Cappel that “ongoing media coverage” has unfairly characterized the state of the investigation and placed undue significance on city employees who have decided not to cooperate in the investigation.
The statement said some employees “have chosen not to participate in the investigation. However, because of what we believe are unusual circumstances, which include public record requests for investigation records while it is ongoing, media coverage and commentary about the investigation, and pending litigation filed by Straub, we draw no adverse inferences regarding an individual’s decision not to participate.”
The statement said “it would be unfair and inappropriate to conclude that these individuals are ‘refusing to cooperate’ as has been reported, or that they are intentionally concealing relevant information, as has been implied in some of the public commentary.”
The statement acknowledged that Straub wouldn’t agree to be interviewed, Cotton has not yet scheduled an interview, and multiple people in the city’s police and legal departments are refusing to be interviewed. However, it said Cappel is “unable at this point to determine the impact on our ability to reach meaningful factual findings without their participation.” Also, she would “draw no adverse inferences regarding their decision not to participate.”
Finally, the statement urged “patience and restraint.”
“We understand and fully appreciate the public’s interest in this investigation, but we also must protect the integrity of the process to ensure it is fair for everyone who participates, elects not to participate, or who will be potentially impacted by the investigation findings,” the statement read.
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